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Jeb Bladine: There’s a scam for every season

Songwriter Pete Seeger, referring to Solomon’s Book of Ecclesiastes, made this phrase famous: “To everything there is a season … ”
Unfortunately, for every season there is a scam. It’s eclipse time in America, and scams are running rampant.

The most prominent — and perhaps most dangerous fraud – involves bogus solar eclipse glasses. Other financial rip-offs are out there, but counterfeit glasses pose significant threats to long-term eyesight for unsuspecting users.

Amazon has recalled an unknown but no doubt large number of phony glasses. The American Astronomical Society warns of fraudulant ISO logo and certification labels “on fake eclipse glasses and handheld solar viewers made with materials that do not block enough light.”

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Four U.S. companies manufacture eclipse glasses recommended by NASA: American Paper Optics, Rainbow Symphony, Thousand Oaks Optical and TSE 17. Others also are legitimate, but just make sure that when wearing eclipse glasses, you can’t see anything but the sun itself. If lights of lesser brightness show through, find another set of protective lenses.

Better Business Bureau spokeswoman Katherine Hutt notes how beyond the fraud of phony glasses, other scams are swelling as total eclipse excitement escalates. “Big events,” she said, “mean big opportunities for scammers and unscrupulous businesses.”

Most transportation and event reservations are authentic, but some are promoted purely to cheat unwary eclipse-goers. Some travelers lost long-held reservations when underhanded hoteliers learned they could re-book at elevated prices; other people will lose their money to deceitful lodging offers.

Housing cons, however, can work in both directions. For example, I know of one local house rental now available because the previous reservation turned out to be a fraudulent effort to access the homeowner’s bank account.

Some problems for eclipse travelers result from a combination of bad luck and circumstantial greed. Flights are overbooked; car rental agencies have run out of vehicles; all along the coast-to-coast “path of totality,” there are warnings of gasoline shortages.

These and similar situations offer opportunities for price-gouging. One visitor who arrived at Portland International Airport needing an additional day of car rental reportedly received an $800-plus quote. “I’ll be back tomorrow,” she said.

The total eclipse is an extraordinary event for which people still are making last-minute arrangements. As Hutt warned, “That urgency and unique opportunity are what can make scams successful … always trust your instincts — if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

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